notes in **interpreting plato's dialogues**

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This is my notes of the content of the book **Interpreting Plato's Dialogues** by Prof. J. Angelo CorlettIn this book, he argues against the orthodox Mouthpiece Interpretation of Plato's Dialogues and advances the Socratic (anti-mouthpiece) Interpretation.I read this book in order to prepare myself in reading Plato's dialogues as well as fiction containing dialogues of philosophic nature. If I haven't read this book, I would have read Plato in a manner akin to the Mouthpiece Interpretation. Thanks to this book, I have an arsenal of frameworks by which to attack the Platonic Corpus.Elevic


  • Interpreting Platos Dialogues by J. Angelo Corlett

    a description and critical evaluation of variousways of approaching Platos dialogues, along withthe articulation and defense of a new paradigm forinterpreting the Platonic corpus

    a philosophical work

    Chapter 1 Introduction: Approaching PlatosDialogues

    On having a taxonomy of interpretive approaches

    Different from Robert Brumbaughs Four Types of PlatoInterpretation in Platos Dialogues: New Studies and


    Ideal approach: it makes sense of the contents of the entirety ofPlatos works; takes into account the various features of Platosworks{without this, a fallacy of misattribution is committed}; doesnot rely on an overly prejudiced understanding of what Plato is up

    to in composing his writings

    A disputed writing The Seventh Letter may provide some answeron what characters spoke for Plato, but its authorship is disputed

  • We can never for sure that the following approaches do justice toPlato. We have to assume that our writings of Plato at hand is all

    there is to it, i.e. there are no non-extant writings

    Final desideratum: a plausible approach must be able to explainwhy competing approaches are less plausible to we

    analyze competing approaches


    This is complex.according to secondary sources, Antistheneswas probably the most important follower of Socrates; if we want toknow more about Socrates, we may have to study his writings morethan Platos but we know that we have more of Platos writings thanhis.Antisthenes is regarded as the father of the Cynic philosophy

    The Mouthpiece Interpretation

    Authorial Intentionality and Unintentionality in the MouthpieceInterpretation: his dialogues are a product of every ideas held byPlato

    .one proponent of this is Kahn [Plato and the Socratic Dialogue]

    Some believe that his dialogues contain Platos mindunintentionally. They believe that Platos aim in creating thesedialogues was to create philosophical and literary masterpieces

    The Theoretical, Doctrinal, and Doxatic MouthpieceInterpretations

  • Theoretical Interpretation: the Platonic corpus intentionally orunintentionally contains Platos philosophical theories aboutknowledge, reality, justice, love, and so forth. p.5

    most popular version of this attributes to Plato a Theory ofForms

    Doctrinal Interpretation: his doctrines are contained in thePlatonic corpus intentionally or not

    .its distinction from the theoretical interpretation lies that itsabout Platos deeply held convictions and not a full blown theory

    Dogmatic Mouthpiece Interpretation: contents reflectintentionally or not Platos own beliefs..this is milder than thefirst two.also known as Doxatic

    These three types assume that Platos mind is in the Platoniccorpus; the question is up to what extent?

    Local, Moderate, and Global Unity

    The theoretical and dogmatic interpretations raise the question ofwhether theres a unity of Platos thoughts in his writings

    Unity Thesis: there is a conceptual unity in Platos thoughtseefootnote 15 in pp. 5-6

    Local Unity Thesis: This unity is obtained within a particulardialogue.

    Moderate Unity Thesis: This unity is obtained within a selectionof particular dialogues.

  • Global Unity Thesis: This unity is obtained within the entirePlatonic corpus.

    Local, Moderate, and Global Development

    Developmental Thesis: Plato wrote dialogues that show theongoing changing of his theories, doctrines, and/or beliefs.

    Local Developmentalism: There can be a development of theconcept of x from one part of a dialogue to another part of it.

    Moderate Developmentalism: There can be a development of aconcept of x from one dialogue to another.

    Global Developmentalism: There is a development of a conceptx throughout the Platonic corpus.

    Developmentalist approaches depend on the classification ofPlatos writings into early, middle, and/or late periods.

    Developmentalists just assume this, and seem to provide nojustification for this classification.

    Further Complexities

    Mixing and considering the plausibility of these approaches showhow complex the task of approaching Plato is.

    Dialogues should be read as dialogues, not treatises. Themouthpiece interpreters make this hermeneutical mistake.

  • The Anti-Mouthpiece Interpretation

    holds the question of how to read the Platonic dialogues isintimately bound up with the even more evasive question of whyPlato employed the dialogue format in his philosophical writings

    it denies that Platos theories or doctrines can be deduced fromhis writings

    but it does not deny that we can understand Platos way ofdoing philosophy

    it denies that anything we can gain from reading his works aresubstantive

    Plato surely had views and theories, but it is certain that he didnot compose his dialogues with the aim of communicating them

    Until external evidence can be found in favor of a mouthpieceinterpretation, the mouthpiece interpretation does not hold.

    The author will seek to elaborate and defend on the SocraticInterpretation approach

    The moderate mouthpiece interpretation combines mouthpieceand anti-mouthpiece approaches

  • Chapter 2 The Mouthpiece InterpretationPlatonic Question: How ought Platos writings to beinterpreted, and why?

    Mouthpiece interpretation = Platos dialoguescommunicate his ideas; to different degree based on theextend that his dialogues are his mouthpiece

    unclear on what they meant that this theories ordoctrines are expresses in his dialogues



    Whatever philosophical gaps or contradictions there arein the dialogues, they are due to the lack of Platosphilosophical acumen

    There is a development of Platos thought over time

  • There are also esoteric interpretators who hold thatPlatos ideas are not found within his dialogues

    instead, they are communicated to his students in theAcademy such as Aristotle

    Starting on p23 onwards, author will examine more recentarguments for the Mouthpiece Interpretation. Unless hisobjections can be met, the alternative interpretation, i.e.anti-Mouthpiece, must be accepted

    More specifically, the Socratic Interpretation: one oughtto interpret Platos works as dialogues and that Platowas deeply committed to the Socratic method ofdoing philosophy

    that his commitment to the philosophical dialectic is sostrong that it is near impossible to extract from his writingshis actual views or doctrines

    Therefore, we ought not to ascribe directly to Platowhatever views that any of the characters in his the absence of sufficient reason todo so

  • The basic reason to reject the Mouthpiece Interpretation:It lacks sufficient rational support p24

    Key hermeneutical points of mutual agreementbetween mouthpiece and anti-mouthpieceinterpreters: p24

    1. Plato writes several dialogues, but no treatises2. There are certain views propounded by certain

    dialogical characters in the Platonic corpus3. Plato writes dialogues for a purpose, or a set of

    purposes, one of which is to guide readers tophilosophical and objective truths

    4. Plato indeed has philosophical views, howevertentatively held

    5. There are better and worse ways to read Platosdialogues

    Notwithstanding these agreements, there are manydisagreements between the two camps.

    Doctrines and theories attributed to Plato presuppose theMouthpiece Interpretation.

  • P25


    Richard Kraut argues that the anti-MouthpieceInterpretation holds the mistaken view that Plato is adramatist

    if he were so, such view is valid

    He addresses #2 and #3. His distinction of Plato and thedramatist is insightful but begs the question on whetherPlatos goal is different from that of a dramatist

    If Platos goal is the Truth, this does not necessitate thathe infuse his unique thoughts in his dialogues

    Kraut also provides another argument that Platosconvictions are held to some extend in some of hisdialogues

    but his chain of thought cannot discount the validity ofthe anti-Mouthpiece Interpretation

  • In other words, Kraut presumes the MouthpieceInterpretation as innocent of errors till proven guilty

    Terence Irwin attributes Aristotles interpretations ofPlatos Dialogues as ancient evidence that they werereally Platos mouthpiece

    Aristotle is external evidence, but this should becorroborated by internal evidence within the PlatonicCorpus; unfortunately, it isnt

    Deeper reason why Irwins reasoning is problematic: Oneought to accept the Aristotle as external guide to Platoview unless sufficient reason can be found in thedialogues against it

    .but the dialogue form being internal and primaryevidence is against this view by Irwin

    Furthermore, we cannot always rely on Aristotle preciselybecause he does not always agree with Plato; worse hemay actually misunderstood what Plato meant

  • We can concede that we cannot NOT consult Aristotle forgreater understanding of Plato. But the silence ofdialogues for Mouthpiece Interpretation as well as itsdialogue forms are sure internal evidence against it


    Even if we suppose that Aristotle is a reliable guide toPlato, it does not follow that he is the best externalwitness

    P31 Irwin cannot be clear to have uttered a strongargument for support of the Mouthpiece Interpretation

    Julia Annas argues that the anti-Mouthpiece Interpretationmakes Plato a sceptic

    .this is merely an assumption

    She appeals to AUTHORITYSEXTUS

  • All t